MC Wyzsztyk, the sole voice in the Atlanta-based trio Psyche Origami, sums up his crew's hip-hop career ambition in five words: "We want to own it." Admittedly, he is far from the first rhyme-spitter to lay claim to the genre. Rap, like religion, has supported itself with a dialect of exclusivity throughout its turbulent lifespan, but precious few of its artists portray their machismo so like a musical manifesto as Wyzsztyk (pronounced Wizz-tick).
"We are not just fans of music; we are students of music," he explains, referring not only to himself but to P.O.'s two DJs, Dainja and Synthesis. "We are able to pinpoint those historical places and moments where artists achieve a new level of maturity, they raise the bar and people are able to say, 'OK, this is where it happened.' Like Kraftwerk, like John Coltrane--they created a new paradigm, and everyone started to get behind them. In hip-hop, it presents a unique and interesting challenge, but it can be done. We want to live up to that challenge and set that new standard. The result will speak for itself."
What music should follow such a lofty statement of purpose is anybody's guess. Like the German techno pioneers, P.O. relish in imagery of humans fused with machines in the ultimate musical/biological expression--but this isn't techno. Like 'Trane, Wyzsztyk's virtuosic contributions to songs (and interviews) occasionally seem to transcend the need for air--but P.O. isn't jazz. Actually, the common descriptors slapped on the trio by writers and promoters hover more around "old school" and "purist" hip-hop than any "new standard." Maybe the setup is to blame: one MC and two DJs, a combination nary seen in hip-hop since the seminal early '90s trio Main Source. Maybe the culprit is P.O.'s live show, where rather than handing a CD of pre-produced arrangements to the sound man, Dainja and Synthesis spin their own vinyl and spice it with acrobatic solo scratching and dueling DJ routines. The most likely explanation, however, is that in an age where producers like Timbaland and The Neptunes are bigger and more prolific celebrities than the acts they support, for P.O. to simply make an elaborate record with their own six hands is considered quaint and old-timey. The primordial style is the future paradigm; welcome to the schizoid world of contemporary hip-hop.
"Guys aren't producing their own stuff, they're not arranging it--really, they're not putting 100 percent of themselves into the product anymore," Wyzsztyck complains. "As someone who takes hip-hop seriously, I take offense to that. A producer-for-hire mentality floods the market with the same sound, and the originality goes on vacation. It's not being presented with a lot of heart; they're just taking bits and pieces of what is popular and putting it all on a record, so you never get a chance to hear 100 percent of what that artist is capable of."
For most musicians (or athletes or politicians, for that matter), a mention of that particular percentage connotes nothing more than a suspicion that the speaker is avoiding the question. The best tracks on P.O's inaugural 2003 LP Is Ellipsis, however, leave little doubt that all three members are spilling every ounce of their energy and passion into their musical conversation. Wyzsztyk not only unleashes a furious stream of free-associative (but rarely obscene) rhymes in his slightly nasal, conversational voice, he also augments a choir of tracks of himself talking, grunting and mocking his lyrical references. Likewise, Dainja and Synthesis, who often scratch on an additional track of Wyzstyk's voice, pile myriad obscure samples, found-object percussion and robotic ejaculations on top of a bassline that, lest we forget, they are also spinning on vinyl. The end result of this incredible attention to detail is less a collection of tracks than a tightly condensed chorus of all things hip-hop. One word comes to mind imagining it live on stage: exhausting. But for these four busy turntables and single microphone, a live show is the ultimate test.
"Yes, it is definitely exhausting," Wyzstyk admits, "But we've been performing in this format consistently enough that we've settled into a very fun and upbeat performance. And since it is on vinyl, we have full control of everything being heard and can switch it up at any moment. There are so many looks we can give a crowd, from insane DJ battles to switching back into a song that someone likes, that it definitely makes for an exciting and unpredictable show."
If Is Ellipsis were released five to 10 years earlier, Wyzstyk's promise of a "new standard" well might have rung true. His rhymes cover enough new lyrical area, and the DJs abilities are visionary enough that Psyche Origami could easily have clicked into a bourgeoning community of hip-hop iconoclasts like Black Star, Dr. Octagon and Deltron 3030. Today, the group is one of a legion of revivalist outfits, but their concept-driven albums show plenty of promise to transcend the tired "yes y'all"-ing of their contemporaries. See them now for $3, and five years from now no one will believe you.
Psyche Origami, Wednesday, November 17, 9 p.m., $3, Neurolux, 111 N. 11th St., 336-5034.